It looked like New Year's Day was going to be another underwhelming one for the Big Ten. Then came the Rose Bowl.
For just the second time since the start of the 21st century, the Big Ten won the Grandaddy of Them All, as Michigan State looked excellent in a big win over Stanford.
Earlier on the first day of 2014, Nebraska grabbed an upset win in the Gator Bowl before Wisconsin and Iowa suffered game-changing quarterback injuries in losses.
Here is a recap of the biggest moments, the biggest names and the biggest wins — along with some insight — of the Big Ten's slate of bowl games on Wednesday.
Spartans terrific on both sides to boost Big Ten with Rose Bowl win
The No. 1 defense in the country showed up. And so did every other aspect of the Big Ten champion Spartans in Wednesday's Rose Bowl.
Michigan State might have been the underdog to Stanford heading into the evening tilt in Pasadena, Calif., but they played like anything but, shutting down the Pac-12 champs and pulling out a 24-20 win in the Spartans' first Rose Bowl appearance since 1988.
Stanford did more than most were able to do against Michigan State this season, but the Spartans still clamped down on the Cardinal, who had a total offensive output equalling just 305 yards. The absence of suspended linebacker and team captain Max Bullough caused quite a bit of concern, but the Spartans defense runs deep. Playmakers like Darqueze Dennard, Denicos Allen, Shilique Calhoun and more came up huge all night.
But no play loomed larger than Stanford's last, in which another Michigan State defender — the one tasked with filling Bullough's spot on the field — made a huge play. On fourth-and-1 with fewer than two minutes left in the game, Stanford rushed right up the middle, and linebacker Kyler Elsworth stuffed the ball carrier to effectively end the game.
But while the defense stole the headlines, perhaps it was the offense that shone through as the reason for a victory in the Rose Bowl, the first by a Big Ten team since 2010. Quarterback Connor Cook had some shaky plays early, including a head-scratching interception returned for a touchdown that put Stanford up, 17-7, in the second quarter.
Cook bounced back, though, and he did it in incredible fashion, throwing for a season-high 332 yards and a pair of touchdown passes, the second of which put the Spartans in front for good in the fourth quarter.
"Connor has the ability to bounce back after something bad," head coach Mark Dantonio told ESPN's Chris Fowler during the trophy presentation. "He's resilient."
Jeremy Langford added 84 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The win is a huge one for Michigan State, the first BCS win in its first (and last) BCS bowl game appearance. Dantonio has led the Spartans to double-digit wins in three of the last four seasons, and his team could be on the verge of making national noise on an annual basis.
And for the Big Ten conference, the win is even more crucial. Ohio State was the last team to win the Grandaddy of Them All back in 2010, and that was the only Big Ten win in the Rose Bowl since the start of the 21st century. Bowl season in general has rarely gone well for the conference in recent seasons. Michigan State's win changes all that.
Heading into next season, the Spartans will not be seen as the surprise team many viewed them as this season. Dantonio has the respect, he has a defense and he has a quarterback. This Rose Bowl win could just be the beginning for Michigan State.
Pelini, Nebraska pull out Gator Bowl win
Bo Pelini has never won fewer than nine games in a season after his team's 24-19 win over Georgia in the Gator Bowl.
It's an important fact to note considering the amount of talk swirling around Lincoln this season regarding whether or not Pelini is the right man for the job. A win in a bowl game many Huskers fans wanted little part of to begin with likely won't alter those discussions too much, but Pelini supporters do have some new ammunition in this argument.
The future was supposed to be on display with freshman Tommy Armstrong Jr. taking the reins of the Nebraska offense. Huskers fans have seen plenty of Armstrong this season, as senior QB Taylor Martinez missed most of the year. The freshman made some strong plays — including the 99-yard touchdown pass to Quincy Enunwa that will make every one of the highlight reels — despite completing just six passes. Two of them went for touchdowns to Enunwa.
But of course it was running back Ameer Abdullah that posted the best numbers. He did his usual thing, going for 122 yards and a touchdown on the ground.
The Husker defense allowed just the 19 points, a pretty good day for a unit that had played poorly all season long. But they did let up in the fourth quarter, when the Bulldogs scored their only touchdown. Georgia was also threatening in the red zone in the game's final minute. Only a dropped pass from a Bulldogs tight end turned the ball over on downs, effectively ending the game.
But a win is a win, and this is another postseason win for Pelini. It's his fourth bowl victory at Nebraska, his first, however, since the 2009 Holiday Bowl.
Shaw terrorizes Badgers as Wisconsin beat in Capital One Bowl
Offensive fireworks? Oh yeah, but not the ones Wisconsin was looking for.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Shaw had a huge day, throwing for 312 yards and three touchdowns. He also ran in for a score and caught a touchdown pass on a trick play. Shaw not only made some terrific throws, completing 22 of his 25 attempts, but he got some amazing catches from a talented wide-receiving corps, too. The Badgers allowed a season-high 34 points to South Carolina in the 34-24 loss.
Still, the Badgers were in this one most of the way, getting a pair of first-half touchdown throws from quarterback Joel Stave and led at the half. But Stave was injured in the third quarter, a disastrous turn of events for Wisconsin that forced Curt Phillips to take over under center. He had thrown just two passes all year to that point.
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Not even a 91-yard kickoff return by Kenzel Doe to make it a three-point game could save the Badgers. Phillips came in and threw two interceptions, and the game was wrapped up when Jared Abbrederis and Melvin Gordon fumbled on a gadget play in the final minutes.
There's little doubt things would have been different if not for Stave's injury. The Badgers running game was still reliable as ever, with Gordon rushing for 143 yards and James White going for another 107. But the inability to throw the ball while trailing late was the key. Stave isn't considered by many to be one of the Big Ten's best quarterbacks, but it was extremely apparent how much he means to the Badgers.
A season that started so promising for the Badgers ended horribly, first with a loss in the regular-season finale against Penn State that potentially knocked them out of a BCS bowl game and now with a loss in the Capital One Bowl.
Hawkeyes can't take advantage of Mettenberger's absence in Outback Bowl defeat
Zach Mettenberger's absence figured to give the Iowa Hawkeyes a chance to topple 16th-ranked LSU. But even without Mettenberger, the LSU offense looked phenomenal compared to Iowa's severely sputtering unit.
A 21-14 loss was the Hawkeyes' fate in Wednesday's Outback Bowl, dealing another blow to the Big Ten's perception in the eyes of the SEC-praising college football public. The Iowa offense was to blame, amassing just 233 total yards — 76 on the ground — against an LSU team that wasn't doing too much on offense itself.
Mettenberger, LSU's senior quarterback, was knocked out for the season in the Tigers' regular-season finale, and with LSU having to break in a new signal caller in freshman Anthony Jennings, Iowa figured to have a shot at an upset. The Hawkeyes would have had that chance had the offense played better. Jennings completed just seven passes for 82 yards, no touchdowns and an interception (he did rush in for a touchdown).
Of course, the game's MVP was LSU running back Jeremy Hill, who ran for 216 yards and a pair of touchdowns, including the game-sealer with two minutes left in in the fourth quarter. The Iowa defense buckled down in the second half, but Hill gashed the Hawkeyes for 87 yards on that final scoring drive.
Iowa made some plays. John Lowdermilk had a near pick-six, but he dropped the ball short of the goal line, negating the score. Fortunately, Mark Weisman punched in a touchdown moments later to make it a one-score game. But the real end of Iowa's chances came when quarterback Jake Rudock was knocked out of the game with an injury.
It was a seemingly missed opportunity for the Hawkeyes, but this Iowa bunch still bounced back incredibly from a four-win season a year ago. Rudock, a sophomore, figures to get even better heading into next season.